And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And time for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
– TS Eliot, The Lovesong of Alfred Prufrock
Many courses and articles on improving your writing mention the need to try writing at different times of the day to discover the most productive times to write, and there is no denying that at certain times of the day when I am more able to focus without effort. However, there are other considerations that the real world of dust and children and work apply to our time that, even if you are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule (as I am at the moment) affect the use of these slots of optimal writing time.
Since I first encountered it I have been a believer in the “Eat a Live Frog For Breakfast and Everything Else Seems a Little Easier” method of task priority; pick the task you least want to do and do that first so you replace a feeling of doom with success, setting you up for the day. It works very well for me in a business context, so I applied it to writing and planned to finish the necessary but unpleasant tasks (such as bleaching the bathroom) first, believing I could start writing from a place of confidence with the rest of the day clear. However, many days I finish my task list in the morning but have less than an hour until a sensible lunch time, so I give myself a short period of doing nothing pressing, maybe a quick visit to my email or a website and have an early lunch.
Heading into the afternoon, I do not usually start writing immediately after the last mouthful; I read for a little whole to stop the feeling of rushing (another idea that serves well me well for time and stress management in an office). And another day goes by with the feeling that I did not write quite as much as my inner critic has decided is the reasonable volume for a day.
Maybe the issue is my inner critic, and I need to spend more effort on remembering that filled pages are a victory and not a failure; on walking away without heeding the shouts of the never satisfied. However, I cannot ignore the rare days when I feel as if I have written many good pages. So I decided to look at other possibilities.
Many of my most successful days have been when I was about to submit a work; I wanted to not just write for an hour but use that hour to finish writing something. Conversely the lack of a stronger target than “Write for an hour” or “Write 500 words” leaves me writing only to that target; I have an afternoon so I can spend a little longer on considering the perfect word or phrase, and have my coffee 20 minutes later than I planned.
The same looser targets creep into the completion of my task list. If there are a few minutes left before the washing machine finishes I might pick up a book to read a chapter; even if I stop reading again as soon as I hear the machine click (avoiding getting to a good place to stop, or just finishing the chapter, or actually stopping at the end of that chapter are another struggle for another time), I am still looking at how the tasks are all being done instead of whether they could fit in less time if I overlapped them more.
Worse – despite when working on IT projects championing the lesson of doing what maximises value first – years of having to follow to the new revised instructions of clients and managers has made my internal critic say that urgent is the same or even greater priority than important, when in my free time I am often the soul stakeholder so can decide not only when to do tasks but even whether they needed to be done today.
Starting with the task to which you are least looking forward works well in business because – even if you have a great job – they are all tasks that you are doing because you are being paid and not through choice; no prioritising an ice-cream. Possibly, to deal with finding time for things I do for pleasure I need to start with the task that has the biggest impact. So for the next week I will try writing for an hour after breakfast and then deal with chores.
Where better to start than my statement of purpose, so I wrote most of this before I started any of the other tasks I want to complete today. Half a day is not enough for any real review; however I am encouraged to be less than an hour behind a usual Monday.
If this helped you find more time for good writing, you think I am completely off track, or you just want to wish me well then it would be good to hear from you.
Another perspective on where the time goes: Why I don’t call myself a writer: part one (year-struck.com)